The Veil of Tradition: Patriarchy’s Enduring Influence in Pakistan’s Social Fabric

‘Patriarchy’ is a word that has become commonplace in modern society. What are the ideas that it embodies and is it so deeply rooted in our society or is it just another trendy phrase?

‘Patriarchy’ is a word that has become commonplace in modern society. What are the ideas that it embodies and is it so deeply rooted in our society or is it just another trendy phrase that will phase out over time?


The word has its roots in the Greek language. ‘Patria-’ means father while ‘arche-’ means to rule. A patriarchal system denotes a hierarchy where men dominate and hold all the power. It empowers them while enabling the suppression of women. They hold authority over not only the workings of the system and society but over the ‘lesser’ and ‘weaker’ gender as well. The women are meant to serve the men and work underneath them. Many intricacies make up this oppressive system but at its core lies ‘Hegemonic Masculinity’. It means that masculine traits will be favored over those that are feminine. Even within a male-dominated society, there are harsher lines that form the hierarchy, placing the most dominant and masculine man at the top. Scholars of gender studies say that masculinity is not a genetic or natural phenomenon rather it is an identity molder over time through social cues and cultural norms. From day one, boys are taught to be strong, domineering, confident, and assertive while girls are taught to be soft, shy, vulnerable, and comforting. On their own, these qualities are important for the personal development of every human being but when they are set apart and pit against one another in a competitive contrast, men tower over women. Although the systems of male dominance are prevalent all over the world, in almost every single country save some Scandinavian nations – many of its components arise from the religion of the land being twisted into something it is not. Critically acclaimed social critic and gender expert Bell Hooks explained how the patriarchy slithered its way into her life – through the Church. She explained how Christianity was brought to her sampled in sermons of God creating man to rule the world, and God creating women to serve man. ‘God-Fearing Women’ were to be traditional, religious housewives who stayed at home to cook, clean, and serve others. Similarly in Pakistan, the religion card is used to reinforce patriarchal norms when that goes completely against Islamic injunctions.

In Islam, men are to be the providers and protectors of the family system, they are to be pillars of strength, honesty, hard work, and integrity. This sacred role has been distorted and used by extremist mullahs and conservative figureheads as a sort of leash over women. Women in Islam have a status of utmost respect and honor. They are precious, celebrated, and guarded as gold. But the new-age translation of these roles has seen violence exacted against the very women Islam has declared to protect. Sons in the family are encouraged to work from an early age and go abroad to achieve higher education whilst the daughters are restricted from studying after a certain age and are told to focus on home chores. A common misconception in Pakistani households is that money is wasted on female education when they are going to eventually get married and stay home anyway. A cruel statement that has caged many ambitious girls in the four walls of their homes. The culture of marriage has turned horrendous in Pakistan as forced; child marriages are on the rise. Women are used as bargain chips for alliances between families to either help sate aggrievances or to create bonds of wealth. They are denied their rightful inheritance, stripped of the right to work, and made a mockery of when they attempt to break the cultural norms of homemaking. Pakistan put forth the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act in 2011 to discourage these very practices. However, the courts have fallen short of implementing it in daily life.

On a daily basis, Pakistani headlines mention case after case of fathers killing their daughters, brothers shooting their sisters, and husbands beating their wives within an inch of their lives all for the sake of some flimsy honor. Cultural violence in the form of Karo Kari and Vani is still prominent in rural settings within Sindh, Balochistan, and Punjab.

The case of Qandeel Baloch is almost always the first to be brought up when gendered violence is being discussed in a Pakistani context. She was an internet celebrity, made famous by her social media presence. She was just 26 years old when her brother Waseem strangled her to death in 2016. He showed no remorse over his actions when he was arrested and when asked why he would commit sororicide, he simply proclaimed that it was because Qandeel was bringing disgrace to him and his family through her provocative online presence. It is clear from his confession that he thought her life and decisions were under his control and once she stepped out of what he deemed acceptable, her life was forfeit. This cultural upbringing where men see themselves as not the protectors over women, but rather as their wardens.

Shabbir Abbas, father of 18-year-old Saman Abbas, was arrested in Islamabad in November of 2022 under the charge of murdering his daughter in Italy. The girl refused an arranged marriage set up by her parents – a simple rejection that led to her tragic demise.

Mukhtara Mayi – a woman whose case needs no introduction; she was gang-raped on the orders of a tribal council, punished for a crime she didn’t commit, the illicit affair of her younger brother. A man committed the crime, but a woman paid the price. Where is the justice?

Gender-based violence in Pakistan includes domestic violence, street harassment, sexual assault, and workplace discrimination. Although difficult, many women do persevere and claw their way into the workspace, but then even there they face challenges that their male colleagues don’t have to. In 2022 Pakistan put out the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Amendment Act to combat this.

The Patriarchy is damaging to both men and women. It suppresses the women, and it pressurizes the men. The only way out of this is by bringing awareness to the masses through a bottom-up approach. The family unit is where change is needed the most. Only when cultural ideas of what a successful man and a chaste woman are put to the side, can society as a whole flourish. What needs to be understood is that defeating this ideology does not mean promoting laziness in men or promiscuity in women, but rather giving them equal space in society to perform and achieve; such progress will only help them go up in terms of success.

Hafsa Ammar
Hafsa Ammar
Hafsa Ammar is an undergraduate student of Peace and Conflict Studies at National Defense University, Pakistan.